Officials of the Department of Energy Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office, the New Mexico Environment Department, representatives of legacy waste cleanup contractor N3B and members of the public gather Thursday at the Los Alamos Municipal Building. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
EM-LA manager Doug Hintze responds to questions Thursday evening during a public meeting to address Consent Order milestones for FY2019. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Department of Energy Environmental Management Los Alamos (EM-LA) Field Office manager Doug Hintze gave an update on compliance with the 2016 Consent Order for legacy waste cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory at a Thursday evening meeting in Los Alamos hosted by EM-LA and the New Mexico Environment Department.
Hintze gave an overview of the Consent Order structure which he called a dynamic process that allows for revision during the year due to upward or downward adjustments in funding. He stressed the importance of safety, efficiency and transparent execution of the multiple campaigns which are being conducted simultaneously under the Consent Order.
Each year the NMED and DOE identify 10 to 20 milestones for the upcoming fiscal year and 10-20 targets for the two subsequent fiscal years. Revisions to milestones and targets are based on actual work progress, changed conditions, risk and funding. Some 15 milestones were listed for FY2018 with 13 met and two milestone extensions granted by NMED. An additional 53 deliverables were submitted to NMED.
EM-LA Designated Agency Manager Arturo Duran said a lot of progress has been made.
“We are in the third year of the new Consent Order and we are learning better and better how to increase efficiency in our program, how we can strategize and plan better with the money we get,” he said.
Duran said the new Consent Order has allowed DOE to shift its priority based on risk, information and anything else that is learned as the program is executed.
“We learn as we execute our program. It doesn’t put us in conflict but it puts us in partnerships, with the state, with the new contractor, working in partnership so that we can do the best with what we’ve got,” he said.
In Appendix B, the list of milestones for the year, Duran said only the highest priorities are indicated but he said there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes and a lot of work that has to happen so that next year more projects can be executed.
Duran addressed the nine campaigns for FY2019 calling the Chromium Interim Measure and Characterization the priority. The chromium-related milestones will include the installation and operation of wells and associated equipment to provide interim measures to prevent the plume from migrating beyond the Lab boundary. Scientific studies and aquifer testing will be conducted to obtain the data need for a corrective measures evaluation and then the evaluation itself will be conducted.
“Eventually we will come in with the corrective measures and tell you what we believe is needed and how we are going to address the chromium plume,” Duran said.
Duran discussed the Historical Properties Completion Campaign which includes investigation and remediation as necessary for sites located in the historical location of the Lab and on former Lab properties that transferred and are private properties or that require access through private property. He said if there are signs that there is potential contamination on these properties right in town with private ownership, he believes that it should be a priority for the DOE “to come in and do something about it”.
There are several Aggregate Areas that are part of this campaign: Guaje/Barranca/Rendija Canyons Aggregate Area, Pueblo Canyon Aggregate area, Upper Los Alamos Canyon Aggregate Area and Middle Los Alamos Canyon Aggregate Area.
Duran also addressed the Royal Demolition Explosives (RDX) Characterization Campaign which includes potential interim measures or surface activities to prevent migration of RDX and characterization of the intermediate-regional groundwater through well installation, tracer studies and other evaluations necessary to complete the investigation of the nature and extent of contamination and determine the need for a corrective measures evaluation.
There are three RDX-related milestones for FY2019; a report documenting field completion of the R-69 well and the first samples completed; an investigation report that culminates results of investigation activities associated with deep groundwater and includes a groundwater risk assessment; and the annual long-term monitoring report of the surface RDX remedy.
Six other FY2019 are planned including Material Disposal Areas A and T Remedy.
Under public comment, Jay Coghlan, director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico confronted the two DOE officials about DOE’s overall plans for clean-up. Since the release of the 2016 Lifecycle Cost estimate proposing the completion of legacy cleanup by FY2035 to FY2040 at a cost of $2.9 billion to $3.5 billion, Coghlan has argued that DOE only intends to address 5,000 cubic meters of legacy waste and plans to leave an additional 150,000 cubic meters of what he has called radioactive and toxic wastes at Area G in the ground under a soil cap.
Coghlan has called the 2016 Lifecycle Cost Estimate Summary “a DOE ploy to avoid cleaning up more than 90 percent of all wastes at LANL.
Hintze said he has met with Coghlan a few times to discuss the issue. He said DOE’s baseline deals with what meets the law and protects the environment and public health. He said the other waste referred to by Coghlan does not necessarily have to be removed in order for it to be protective of the environment.
For any of the legacy campaigns, Hintze said at the end during the corrective measures evaluation there’s a public participation process DOE goes through with NMED which is the last action on a campaign.
Hintze said folks try to accuse DOE of having already decided to leave the 150,000 cubic meters of waste at the Lab.
“No, that’s not what it is. We have a strategic plan that stretches out actually 20 years. We have to have assumptions. So the schedule for the program is driven by the cost. The target number we’ve been given by our organization is $190 million a year and it takes until 2037. How will we actually cleanup? If you want us to clean up all 200,000 acres, I believe there was an estimate done in 2009 that that’s about $29 billion and decades to do it. If you want to do that for the community, it will be done” Hintze responded to Coghlan.
“Our job is to execute the mission what’s the best. Is that protective of the environment? You may say yes. Strip mining the top of a mesa top 40 feet down to take everything up is that the right thing? No, it’s not the appropriate time right now because that’s a campaign further on. We’re not trying to hide anything. We will go change our lifecycle and make sure it’s discussed in there but the issue is, it’s the community that decides how clean is clean. Our job is to fix it,” Hintze said. “The only thing I’ll say I take offense to is that you’re trying to throw back at us that we’re not trying to be transparent and we’ve already had this discussion a myriad of times. I understand exactly where you’re coming from – we’re not trying to hide anything.”
Coghlan said he had asked two months ago for the lifecycle to be changed but it had not happened yet. Hintze said it is in the process of being changed.
Links to the Consent Order cleanup activities are available at https://www.env.nm.gov/hazardous-waste/lanl/.
New Mexico Environment Department Hazardous Waste Bureau program manager John Kieling, center, chats with Neelam Dhawan, LANL permitting manager for NMED and Joe Legare, environment remediation manager for N3B prior to Thursday’s meeting. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
EM-LA designated agency manager Arturo Duran, far left, and New Mexico Environment Department Hazardous Waste Bureau program manager John Kieling, center, listen to an update on the Consent Order by EM-LA manager Doug Hintze. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com